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“It really didn’t seem real. I didn’t think any of this was possible, for me to be in this beautiful space. I can do the dentistry I want to do and offer the type of services and atmosphere that our patients deserve.”

Dr. Karen Torres knew it was time to make a change.

The Cary dentist had owned her solo practice for about five years when she started to feel the pull of growth. “We were sort of in that middle ground where it felt like we weren’t doing enough to get to the next level,” she says. The location, she believed, was holding her business back.

Torres’ small practice was located in a leased space in an older shopping center. When she started out on her own in 2009—after time at a migrant community health center and in other private practices—she took over the space previously held by another dentist who had moved on. It was small, with only three rooms in which to treat patients. “It was a great starting point for us,” Torres says. “But we wanted to expand, wanted a better location, a nice establishment.”

With the help of her husband Chad, who manages the firm’s business side, Torres started to explore options for relocation and expansion. What they found—through a unique partnership between their lender and the NC Rural Center—opened a world of possibility for the small business.

“For me,” Torres says, “it was a dream come true.”

Mark Bolebruch, a senior vice president and commercial banker with North State Bank, was familiar with the location of Dr. Torres’ practice, and knew the couple’s assessment was correct.

So when they were referred to him by another health care practitioner, he knew he had a tool at his disposal to help them achieve their dream of owning their own office. “Chad and Karen already had the necessary cash flow to support the proposed debt range, but coming up with typical equity would leave them critically short of cash,” Bolebruch recalls. “I explained that as much as banks’ liked lots of equity, North State Bank understood the importance of borrowers’ needing to retain resources appropriate to run their businesses. The Loan Participation Program would be the key to making their dream a reality.”

The Loan Participation Program (LPP) is a fund created initially by the U.S. Treasury Department through its State’s Small Business Credit Initiative, and managed by the NC Rural Center in all 100 North Carolina counties. It’s designed to increase access to capital for small companies in the state that struggle to find funding. Through LPP, the Rural Center buys participations in loans issued by banks or Community Development Financial Institutions, in effect mitigating some of the risk involved and allowing the lender to make loans that would otherwise be on the margin. The Rural Center has partnered on more than 350 LPP loans with 22 different lenders located throughout the state of North Carolina.

Through the LPP, North State Bank was able to finance the purchase of a new office building in Cary and the subsequent upfitting—construction and equipment costs—necessary to turn it into a gleaming dental practice. Karen and Chad stopped by throughout the renovation, taking pictures of exposed metal, drywall dust, and half-finished rooms, and posting them to Facebook. Patients left comments on the pictures, sharing in the excitement. They couldn’t wait to see Dr. T, as many call her, in her new space.

“The Loan Participation Program allowed the bank to make loans within regulatory guidelines and leave Chad and Karen in a stronger financial position. It was a win–win result: the best type!”

The office, which opened in 2015, is stunning. The sandy brown exterior gives way to a bright, calming interior with ash gray floors and cool walls. This location has five treatment bays, with state of the art equipment, allowing Torres more space to treat additional patients—and requiring her to hire two dental hygienists to help see those new clients. The staff of seven complements the physical space: bright, cheery, and exciting. The energy that a new office brought to the practice is readily apparent. “Their excitement over the thought of being able to accomplish one of their dreams well before they thought it was possible was immediately evident,” Bolebruch says.

Torres admits it took a few months for the change to sink in.

“It really didn’t seem real,” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t think any of this was possible, for me to be in this beautiful space. I can do the dentistry I want to do and offer the type of services and atmosphere that our patients deserve.”

But today, as she thinks back to the small, older office—a space they didn’t own—it’s easy for Torres to appreciate the physical and emotional changes that the move has brought to the business. “Where we were was fine. But I think that’s all it was: fine,” she says. “With a new space comes new responsibilities and a new level of financial commitment. But I always knew I wanted more, something more for myself and the practice in general.”

She’s energized by the space, her staff, the new flow of patients. The pull of change has subsided. Everything, she says, feels just right. “It’s hopefully our last location,” she says, laughing. Torres has realized her dream.

Bolebruch also feels a sense of ease about Dr. Torres’ growth. Without the partnership that led to the LPP, purchasing their own building would have been a daunting task. “Chad and Karen were undoubtedly already well on their way to personal and financial success even before I first met with them.  But they had just started a family and it appeared to them that their dream of owning their own office was well off in the distant future,” he says. “But it all happened.”

“What could be better than that?”